There is an art to cuddling. How does your body fit with someone else’s body? How does a furry friend like to nuzzle in alongside you? Why are your children’s feet sticking into your ribs?
“Cuddling is a crucial aspect of a long-term relationship because it connects you,” says Jaime Bronstein, a licensed therapist and relationship expert. “You need to stop and be intentional to make time to be physically close together.”
With that in mind, we put together an illustrated list of cuddling positions, to help you think about the ways you’re connecting with the people and pets in your life.
Are you a hugger? You are now. Spooning is the classic cuddle, with 31% of couples opting to lie together like a set of flatware. If you’re not aware, the Big Spoon envelops the Little Spoon in a bear hug, while both people are laying on their sides facing the same way. It’s a chance to be held or hold someone close and let life slow down for a minute.
Pros & cons: Relationship and intimacy expert Michaela Bloom says “spooning is optimal cuddling because being in touch with more of your body provides more comfort.” But that closeness can make it difficult for the Little Spoon to extricate themselves from an embrace when the Big Spoon starts snoring.
2. The Sweetheart, or The Rom-Com
This is the real fit check, where one partner lays their head on the other’s chest. Then, the other partner wraps an arm around them like the safety bar coming down on a roller coaster to lock you in place.
Pros & cons: “It’s a nice cuddle. You can hear someone’s heart,” says Bronstein. “It subconsciously brings you back to your childhood and hearing a heartbeat.” But this snuggle can be like huddling for warmth, leaving one or both of you too hot to sleep.
3. The Mirror
Want to be close, but not feel someone’s breath on you? You’re not alone. The most popular cuddle — beloved by 42% of people — this pose has each person lie back-to-back while on their sides and facing away from each other. This might be the back support you’ve always dreamed of.
Pros & cons: This cuddle lets you and your partner move freely without waking the other person similar to a sleep divorce; yet, it is approaching the boundaries of what we would call a cuddle because it’s all too easy for the space between you to grow.
4. The Pretzel
When it comes to the Pretzel, it takes two to tangle. Here, two people’s top halves are separate; but their legs intertwine so they look like they’re ready to be salted and served with a lager at Oktoberfest.
Pros & cons: The reassuring pressure of your partner’s leg or foot can have a calming influence; however, keeping your legs entwined can lead to leg cramps at night, which can make it hard to stay asleep.
5. The Face-to-Face Embrace
There are no chaperones for cuddling. And 2% of couples take full advantage, cuddling (and then sleeping) in a sideways hug, as close as 8th graders wish they could be at a junior high semiformal.
Pros & cons: Your partner is front-and-center and all of your attention is focused on them; but Boehm notes that this “may not be ideal because the mechanics of the body can make it hard for both people to be comfortable.”
6. The Pillow Replacement
Finding the right pillow can feel like an impossible task. But maybe the pillow you’ve needed all along is the person sleeping next to you. Here, one person is lying on their stomach while their partner’s arm supports their head and keeps them close.
Pros & cons: Cuddling is about caring and here one partner is literally reaching out for another. That said, people aren’t pillows and acting like one can lead to sore necks or arms that fall asleep before your partner does.
7. The Courtship
Cuddling doesn’t have to be complicated. With the Courtship, two partners are lying side-by-side with their hands clasped together. It’s a small gesture letting someone know that you’re there.
Pros & cons: “Holding hands is wonderful,” says Boehm. “It can help you get used to intimacy, to being close.” It may be a nice first step; but hands get sweaty and a tossing-and-turning partner might drag you across the bed like a fish on a hook.
8. Attack of The Sloth
Sometimes you’re the tree. And sometimes you’re the sloth. One partner is on their back and the other wraps their arms and legs around them in a hug that turns both of you immobile just like this cuddle’s namesake.
Pros & cons: It’s nice to be lazy and have Netflix ask you, “are you still watching that?” Yet, humans give off a lot of heat and extracting yourself from a sloth-like hug can be a challenge.
9. The Drawbridge
At the end of a long day, it can feel great to stretch out your legs on the couch. Here, you’re the head royal and you hold court on your sofa. While you’re sitting upright, your partner lays down and drops their legs across your lap like a drawbridge. This is a classic sofa cuddle — a cuddling gateway, if you will.
Pros & cons: A cuddling position that’s comfortable for two people and one of you can get a foot massage? Get outta’ here. On the other hand, not everybody wants feet on them and taking up the whole couch by laying down can unintentionally feel like a power play in a relationship.
10. The Yoga Retreat
There’s close and then there’s the Yoga Retreat. Here, you’re sitting down and facing your partner and then bringing them in for a deep embrace. You lock arms and forget the key.
Pros & cons: When you’re close and together, Bloom notes that you can “synchronize your breath and bodies,” to form a better connection, but an extended hug can start to feel awkward, just like eye contact held a bit too long.
11. The Long Day
Some days you need somebody to tell you, “It’s going to be OK.” And this is the cuddling equivalent of those words, where you rest your head in your partner’s lap. Swap in your lounge pants first because you’re probably not going anywhere for a while.
Pros & cons: It lends itself to head rubs, and is an easy way to have a conversation and comfort your partner; but it also may feel a bit too intimate for casual cuddlers.
12. The Barca Lounger
Why buy a recliner when you’ve got a partner? Part backward bear hug, part spooning-sitting-up, this position has one partner sit down and the other nestle inside their arms with their back to the first person’s chest. And then, you lounge until somebody needs to get up for a drink.
Pros & cons: “Adults need to be held,” says Bronstein, and here you’ve both got back support while cuddling. Some partners may find it hard to get comfortable with the weight of another person on their chest or legs.
13. The Smooth Move
A simple yawn and stretch is the cliche that has anchored a thousand romantic comedies. And rightly so: Though cheesy, this position — an arm casually slung over your partner’s shoulders — is a hug without the face-to-face commitment.
Pros & cons: An arm over the shoulder can be platonic or romantic: It’s a low-stakes cuddle. However, your arm will definitely fall
asleep before you do.
14. Cuddle Huddle
How much cuddling can you pile onto one person? You’re about to find out. This starts simply with a pet in your lap; but then it builds as your partner snuggles up against your chest. Got kids? Pile ‘em on. Then, you are all one immovable bundle of warmth.
Pros & cons: The sheer volume of cuddling will keep you present and your attention on your cuddle buddies. At a certain point, though, the warmth and weight may prove overwhelming.
15. Two Peas in a Pod
It’s late afternoon on a weekend and you’re nodding off with a podcast in the background when your dog seizes their opportunity to jump on the bed. They nestle up. You both stretch out. Each of you should feel free to blame the other for the drool on the pillow.
Pros & cons: “Pets help us relieve stress and lower our blood pressure,” says Boehm. “You have a little furry creature that is warm and positive.” Sadly, pets also kick and toss around in their sleep, so they’re not always the best nap buddies.
16. An Afternoon in the Park
Partners can be a pillow in a pinch. As your partner lies on their stomach, reading or napping, rest your head on their lower back. Then, go ahead and look at clouds or let your thoughts drift.
Pros & cons: Cuddling without eye contact can feel less intimidating and Boehm notes that “it can help people get used to the steps of intimacy.” In this position, your connection might not feel as strong because you’re not facing each other.
17. Fit to a “T”
Relationships are like Tetris. You’re just looking for the perfect fit. And sometimes that means lying with your head on your partner’s stomach. Both of you can stretch your legs while catching up on the day.
Pros & cons: Your partner can run their fingers through your hair or rest an arm casually across your chest, but this cuddling session can also feel like an ab-day workout.
18. The Suspenders
A parent lying down is a homing beacon for children. They’ll snuggle up under your arms, wiggle in, and drape themselves across your torso. You will literally be covered in children.
Pros & cons: “Sometimes you fall asleep. Sometimes they fall asleep,” says Bronstein of cuddles at night. “Kids are running around all the time. It’s nice to have them be calm.” But kids aren’t always still and a few kicks to the ribs may hinder full relaxation.
19. The Teddy Bear’s Teddy Bear
More adults sleep with a stuffed animal than you think. The Big Spoon has the Little Spoon to cuddle like a teddy bear in spooning; but what about the Little Spoon? This is where a dog or cat comes in handy, as they can crawl into the crook of the Little Spoon’s arm and peacefully cozy up to a pillow.
Pros & cons: Cuddle parties are terrific stress relievers; but the more (potentially) moving parts you add to your nighttime routine, the harder it can be to fall asleep.
What happens when you cuddle?
We need cuddles. They’re how we connect to the people around us.
“The, soothing, connected, loving touch of cuddling is one of the most important aspects of being socialized and feeling good as a human,” says Boehm.
But why does cuddling make us feel good? It all starts with skin-to-skin contact. When somebody touches us, our skin sends positive signals to our brain. Our brain then releases the hormone oxytocin.
“When we cuddle, feel good hormones like oxytocin are released,” says Bronstein. “That’s beneficial for a couple’s bonding; but also for one’s own feelings of loved-ness.”
Often called the “cuddling hormone,” oxytocin elevates your mood and prevents depression and anxiety. A recent study suggested that hugging may lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
In addition to helping you regulate your emotions, cuddling could help with family bonding, Broehm believes. “Oxytocin is what bonds people,” says Boehm. “And those bonds are important because that’s what allows us to put up with each other.”
If your partner isn’t available, don’t overlook the value of a quick snuggle with your dog or cat. As a bonus, Broehm notes “dogs offer affection without judgment.” Studies have shown that animals can make us more social, reduce stress, and literally help your heart.
What about cuddling and sex?
Cuddling, like every facet of a working relationship, needs an open and honest dialogue, particularly if there are different expectations around what happens after cuddling. Here, Boehm thinks it’s important to distinguish between cuddling and foreplay. She notes that sex is about excitement; but cuddling is about trying to calm down. She tells couples to talk first and make it clear that “we don’t have to get it on with every cuddle.”
While it may sound cliché, don’t forget about cuddling after sex. A study discovered that men and women were more satisfied with their sex life and relationship when they cuddled for a longer period of time after making love.
Make time for cuddling
Boehm encourages couples to think of cuddling as a “preventative routine” for their relationship, helping to balance out the stresses in their lives.
“The longer you’re in a relationship, sometimes the less you cuddle,” adds Bronstein. “You do need to set aside time to cuddle.”
Cuddling lets two people synchronize their breath and bodies. And Bronstein contends that being more comfortable physically together allows us to be more willing to take on the other person’s emotional needs.
We also communicate through touch, with a study showing that strong emotions like fear, happiness, or sadness could be felt and understood through touch. It’s not only about empathy, cuddling is a two-way emotional street. A study determined that stress is reduced in both partners when one is comforting the other. So, whether you’re being held or doing the holding, cuddling can cut down on your anxiety.
In the end, it’s about how the person or pup at the other end of the cuddle makes you feel.
“When you fall asleep next to someone cuddling,” says Bronstein, “it feels like home.”